Written by joet
RateBeer Archives > Craft Beer Introduction
The 10-Minute Beer Expert
Intimidated by gigantic beer lists? You wonít be.April 14, 2005
Santa Rosa, CALIFORNIA -
Iím going to make you a beer expert in 10 minutes. Really! Despite beer being one of the oldest and most complex areas in all of food and beverage, by the time youíre done with this article you will be magically conversant in beer, have a favorite beer style and be able to make the perfect beer and food pairing.
OK, weíre fifteen seconds in, letís get started.
KNOW BEERíS PRIMARY INGREDIENTS
3. Other stuff
Barley is beerís primary ingredient. Itís from barley that all the fermentable sugars are created and from these sugars that all the alcohol is produced. No barley or other grains, no beer.
Hops are green, resinous herbs related to dope. Yes, thatís right. Female hop plants produce sticky buds that make you feel peaceful and relaxed. Theyíve been added to beer for hundreds of years for this soporific effect and because hop oils contain a natural preservative that keep the beer from spoiling. Mass market beers tend not to contain any significant or pleasant hop aroma or flavor. If you find you love hops, you need to seek out the right micros.
Other stuff in beer? Yes, thereís plenty but the important ingredients are barley and hops. Besides barley and hops are yeasts to ferment the grain sugars, water and sometimes other grains like rye or wheat. Some beers add cherries, coriander, ginger, chocolate... just about anything you can think of -- besides what? RIGHT. BARLEY AND HOPS.
KNOW TYPICAL BEER FLAVORS
1. From the roasted barley Ė biscuit, caramel, chocolate, coffee
2. From the hops Ė herbs, citrus, spruce
3. From the grain sugars Ė fruit sweetness, candy, brown sugar/molasses
Most commercial beers are from a very narrow range of the available beer styles. If you think Heineken, Bud Light, Natural Light, Harp, Corona, Miller Genuine Draft, Molson, Kirin, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Amstel Light, Strohs and Becks all taste the same then congratulations -- youíre absolutely right. All these beers are light lagers with very similar flavor profiles.
These beers make up only a very narrow range of available beer flavors, so if light lagers are the only beers youíve tried, the beer world has much in store for you!
Barley produces deeper flavors depending on how much its been roasted. Lightly toasted barley produces cereal or biscuit flavors. Deeper roasts produce coffee or chocolate flavors.
Hops add a wide variety of aromas. If you find fresh herbs, grapefruit or pine needles in your beerís nose, those are the hops talking to you! Hops also add bitterness so beers with a lot of hop character tend also to be more bitter. Hopheads love bitterness and contrary to what youíd expect, quality bitterness is not hard to appreciate.
Grain sugars from barley
Sugars from the barley are not all consumed by fermentation, so just as unfermented sugars from grapes sweeten wines, these leftover sugars provide a beer with sweetness. These sugar flavors can combine with other natural beer chemistry to suggest brown sugar, molasses, candy or fruits like apples or raisins.
PAIRING BEER WITH FOOD
This is a wide, wonderful world best enjoyed exploring so Iíll provide you with a few basics and set you on your way.
1. Caramel, cocoa and coffee flavors complement the smokey flavors of charred grilled foods
2. Hoppy beers cleanse the palate and provide an herbal contrast to fatty foods such as salmon, pizza and goose
3. Effervescent sweet fruit beers pair well with light and medium cheeses
Above are a few pairing ideas. Here are some more ideas to keep in mind:
<li>Effervescence, carbonic acid, promotes acidity. Very lively beers will enliven bright, exhuberant dishes. Sparkling beers come in many varieties. Look for brands like Lindemans, Deus by Brouwerij Bosteels and Saison Dupont.
<LI>The palate cleansing property of hops has to do with a soap-like quality. There are compounds in hops that bind on one end to oils (like those in burgers or cheese) and on the other end to water (like most of beerís medium). A sip of hoppy beer helps wash your tongue clean of fats and frees up your tastebuds for more tasting!
<LI>Having trouble pairing beers with chocolate and coffee flavors with chocolate desserts? A common problem is that the dessert is so sweet that it the beer is perceived as horribly bitter. Try this pairing with bitter chocolate cake to discover the magic.
MY FAVORITE BEER
Think style more than country of origin or brand
As a beer expert, people are going to ask you the question, "Whatís your favorite beer?" Itís okay not to have a direct answer. In fact, I encourage this. Shoot instead for a favorite style or even better - a set of styles.
So letís set you up with a favorite style or three. But first letís eliminate some potential problems...
Think outside the box: forget light lagers and light beer versus dark beer for now
For now, letís say that your favorite beers have nothing to do with the mass market beers weíve all consumed in quantity. Your favorite beer style is not light lager. Also forget about any dark beer versus light beer preferences you think you might have. Itís a big beer world out there and youíll probably have favorites of every color.
Forget about "national" beers
Beers like Fosters (Australia), Becks (Germany), Molson (Canada), Heineken (Netherlands) and Corona (Mexico) donít represent much of any of the variety and sophistication of those countriesí beer markets. Your favorite beer styles might be from another country, but they will probably be of styles native to that country alone.
OK, now weíre ready to find pick our favorite style.
Iím going to describe several styles that generally appeal to beer aficianados and a few styles that donít. I wonít name any names until youíve selected three favorites from the list below.
1. Creamy texture, usually impressive in the glass, lightly hopped and high in alcohol often with some light fruit and candy sugar flavors
2. Mild malt flavors of toast or hay, very hoppy and bitter with a lot of hop character, above average alcohol, medium effervescence, pairs very well with fried and other foods
3. A very strong copper to light brown beer, often very hoppy and often with sweetness reminescent of melons, apples or caramel. Enjoy solo or with a cigar
4. A mild, pale, light-bodied beer with low to medium hop character
5. Low carbonation, little to no aroma, gold to copper in color
6. Often very effervescent with impressive foam, hints of caramel or toffee and some cellar characteristics possibly of a wild, outdoorsy variety
7. Often black, very alcoholic, rich malt flavors usually in the range of dark fruit such as prune or raisin. Fine all by itself.
8. Pale, very clear, sparkling color, lightly tart, refreshing, often with bubblegum, banana or clove notes
OK, choose three. And come back when youíre done.
Ready? Now find your favorite beer styles... 1. Belgian strong ale, 2. India Pale Ale (IPA), 3. Barley wine, 4. Cream ale, 5. English bitter, 6. Biere de Garde, 7. Imperial stout, 8. Kristalweizen. Write these down and carry them with you. You can find examples of these styles by using <a href=/search.asp>RateBeerís advanced beer search.
Youíve completed this exercise and are now a bonafide beer expert. Youíre on your way to greater discovery and enjoyment with an economical beverage thatís great to share with friends.
WHERE TO GO FROM HERE
<a hrefhttp://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/006000570X/ref=pd_bxgy_img_2/002-0068450-6293646?v=glance&s=books target=_blank>The Brewmasterís Table by Garret Oliver - An excellent reference for better understanding beer and beerís place at your table
<a hrefhttp://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0937381640/002-0068450-6293646?v=glance>Stephen Beaumontís Brewpub Cookbook - Recipes from North American brew pubs demonstrate the variety of foods that pair well with beer
<a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/>Rate beer! - rating beer is an easy way and fun to learn more about beer.
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